January always bring with it the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES). At the time the show was running, I looked at the “public début” (as Brendan Iribe, the Oculus VR CEO called it) of the company’s latest prototype headset, Crescent Bay, and some of the recent news coming out of Oculus VR.
However, while Oculus were getting a lot of air-time at CES, perhaps the most interesting announcement regarding VR came not from Oculus VR, but from gaming equipment manufacturer Razer and high-end VR specialist firm Sensics. who together announced a new development ecosystem for VR: the Open Source Virtual Reality (OSVR).
While many companies are developing VR capabilities – head tracking systems, camera systems, gesture-based and other controllers, games and entertainment packages around the Oculus Rift, the fact is that the consumer market is liable to see a lot of HMDs and peripherals with a VR focus emerging over the next few years, to say nothing of applications and suchlike.
In terms of HMDs Zeiss have already launchedHMDs for various purposes, notably and most recently their sub- US$100 Zeiss VR One for smartphones at the same time Samsung launched their “Oculus inside” Gear VR, both of which I wrote about in December. Sony is working on the Morpheus, Sensics is working on its own consumer-focused headset for the Playstation, while Vrvana and GameFace are working on HMDs while ANTVR used CS to announce their forthcoming headset will be compatible with the PlayStation 4 in addition to PCs, the Xbox 360 and other devices.
With so many different systems on the horizon, the creation of content and peripherals is becoming something of a minefield for developers in terms of ensuring their games, experiences and hardware has the largest possible reach within the new marketplace.
The intention behind OSVR, therefore, is to provide an environment for cross-platform / hardware development for VR, with different development engine plug-ins anyone can use covering different headset, controller, tracking systems and so on. All of which is aimed at helping developers ensure their game or experience or controller or whatever works with the widest possible choice of VR options.
In this, it’s important to recognise that OSVR is not some kind of rival to Oculus Rift, although the acronym is emblazoned across the front of Razer’s own forthcoming VR headset, previewed as a part of the OSVR announcement, and may have given some the impression that it is; something Razer’s Min-Liang Tan has been keen to clarify.
“It’s not a competitor to guys like Oculus,” Tan said in an interview with the International Business Times. “This works with Oculus. The software is completely open-sourced. This is a set of standards. A couple of knee-jerk reactions is that people think this is competing with Oculus. Absolutely not. It’s an open platform.”
In the original OSVR announcement, Sensics CEO Yuval Boger also referenced OSVR being he development environment, saying, “OSVR’s open-platform approach accelerates innovation and provides consumers the freedom of choosing the best combination of hardware and software components. We are excited to partner with Razer and other industry leaders to build OSVR together.”
The list of companies on-board with OSVR is small but growing. In terms of HMD makers, the aforementioned Sensics, Vrnana and GameFace. It is also gaining a lot of support from input device manufacturers including Sixense STEM, Virtuix Omni, PrioVR and Leap Motion.
And what of Oculus VR? When asked about the move by journalist Matthew Terndrup, Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey referred to it as a “good thing“, pointing to the fact that the Oculus Rift DK1 was also open-source. That’s as maybe, but Oculus VR were the first company to walk away from earlier discussions on VR standards shortly before it was announced they’d be acquired by Facebook. Not that they perhaps need to be directly involved in something like OSVR – as the tech media note, most companies are developing with Oculus in mind already, so it might be argued standards for development are more about allowing everyone else a better slice of the pie.
The OSVR website places great emphasis on games being its primary focus, and Tan himself points to games developer Gearbox Software being one of the founder partners in OSVR. However, the wider potential for VR across vertical markets is perhaps reflected in the fact that “OSVR supporters” are being sought from both from both industry and academia, with no apparent preference towards games development. Successful applicants being offered a prototype Razer Hacker Kit.
It is this Hacker Development Kit (HDK) that perhaps gave rise to initial confusion about OSVR being a “competitor” to Oculus Rift in some quarters, having been announced at the same time as OSVR.
However, the HDK is actually intended as a low-cost development test rig for VR developers (although it is probable that Razer will eventually market their own HMD), designed to meet current VR standards and to be somewhat modular, offering hardware developers the ability to more readily use it in the development of their own hardware (e.g.tracking systems, cameras, etc.). It will be available from June 2015 at a price of US$199.00.
Developers can already register their interest in the headset (see the HDK link above), and in keeping with the open source nature of the project, the full specifications for the headset, together with a set of schematics for the major components suitable for 3D printing, can also be downloaded from the site for those wishing to DIY their own HMD.
In discussing the HDK and OSVR with International business Times, Tan suggested people think of the two like this,”Think about it like Android for VR. It’s not the kit. It’s a platform, completely open-sourced. All the software is on Android, it’s on Apache 2.0. All the hardware, we’ve uploaded it on the Internet, anyone can print it out at home.”
All told, and in terms of it being intended as a development ecosystem, OSVR + the HDK almost sound like consumer focused VR’s very own Swiss Army knife. It’ll be interesting to see how it fares.
- Razer Looks To Bring Virtual Reality To Masses With $200 Open-Source Goggles – International Business Times, January 14th, 2015
- VR vs OSVR – VR Focus, January 13th, 2015
- OSVR Hacker Dev Kit – Razerzone
- OSVR website
OSVR will be participating in a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) session on Thursday, January 15th, at 15:00 PST URL: reddit.com/r/virtualreality.